This article is part of a new series by Wicked Leeks, Sustainable Cities, exploring what sustainable food means to those living in the city.
Out of all my lovely corner shops, greengrocers and independents in south London, none of them sell parmesan. So last night I had to reluctantly venture into a supermarket, somewhere I usually try to avoid in place of buying from local shops. But did I just pop in for my cheese and leave? No, I also bought my lemon and parsley, betraying my favourite quirky greengrocer-fishmonger.
This sums up my daily conflict when trying to navigate food choices in the city; I know I should try and buy local, organic, plastic free. But the conflicting pressures of time and convenience often weigh in to persuade me otherwise.
I love food. I study it, write about it and, of course, eat it. I’m always thinking about where my next meal is coming from, but I find that it can also be a source of anxiety and a constant trade-off. Selfishly, as a result, I often had myself in mind when researching our new Wicked Leeks series on Sustainable Cities, wanting to ease my mind about the implicit judgements I make about the impacts of food.
Even the word sustainable seems to have lost its meaning. We are faced with a barrage of products claiming sustainable this, sustainable that. And that’s where the conflict and confusion may lie; sustainability has many different dimensions and it’s subject to interpretation depending on who you speak to.
It’s easy to confine the definition to simply how much the food we eat harms the environment, for example, but is it also fair for people and enabling workers to earn a decent wage? Does it contribute to the local economy and give back to the community? Does it challenge the status quo and connect to wider social issues? Where does culture fit into the conversation?
Our ultimate guide on how to find sustainable food in the city will start to untangle these different aspects and, hopefully, help to make the shift to sustainable eating more interesting, more doable and less hassle.
In the city, food is often a moment of joy in the day and at its best, can transport us to different places and link us to something bigger than ourselves. So beyond avoiding choice-anxiety, this series is about showing how much more we can get out of eating by broadening our horizons and thinking about the people who grow, produce, distribute and sell our food.
Food also very often tells a tale beyond mere sustenance. For example, what can a fruit and veg wholesale market tell us about the history of the city and the evolution of our food system? I visited New Covent Garden Market to meet some of the characters behind a unique food history, and perhaps even future, of London.
What else does the future of food in the city hold? New innovations in vertical farming and a burgeoning interest in community gardens is bringing food closer to urban centres, in very distinct ways. Shiny tech solutions might seem appealing but there is also a growing movement seeing the power in connecting with people and communities.
Eating out is one of, if not the biggest, appeals of living in the city, and experiencing diverse culinary traditions and exciting chefs can inspire us in our own cooking. But sustainable restaurants can often be expensive and feel exclusive, so we’ll also be listing some of the greenest places to eat out on a budget as well as hearing from chefs on what to look for on menus.
We hope that this series will be a gateway for exploring and enjoying sustainable food with a different lens, whether you live in the city or just visit for the weekend. Join the conversation with your tips for eating in the city in the comments section, or follow us on social media @wickedleeksmag.